On my first trip through Italy, I somehow missed visiting Florence. What a mistake! This is one of those cities that lives up to the hype and delivers on the promise on a stunning few days filled with gorgeous architecture, beautiful sculptures, and a charming slice of life from Renaissance era.
This time through, on my round the world trip, I knew I needed to spend a week soaking in the city’s fabled art, architecture and beauty were mine. I huffed in the heat to see all the spots recommended in my Insider’s Guide to Florence. All the spots make me remember just why Europe rocks. The streets are bikeable and easily walkable too. Most everything a tourist needs to visit is close. And for the trip into Tuscany, I took a bike tour. Florence is charming and just easy to explore. I visited the Duomo and the museum to take in the inexplicable exquisiteness that is Michelangelo’s David — I highly recommend reading From Marble to Flesh for a fascinating biography of the David. I picked outdoor cafes in the evenings and sipped wine in the evenings.
And after a few days, I knew it was time to take in some of the lesser known sites in Florence — namely, the Boboli Gardens. Unlike the massively sculpted gardens of palaces and castles, this is like an open-air museum set among hedges and cypress trees.
Why Should You Visit the Boboli Gardens in Florence
After days spent in the city, I knew that I wanted to get back into nature. Hiking Cinque Terre was fantastic, so I wanted to a chance to still experience Florence, but perhaps visit it from a different vantage point. Visiting the lush and expansive Boboli Gardens is the perfect antidote to a case of the city blues. It’s located just on the other side of the darkly flowing Arno River. The manicured gardens require a small entrance fee, but it’s worth it for the views, the fresh air, and the unexpectedly charming gardens hidden in various corners.
Though I had been traveling solo, it has been so nice to explore with friends. Together, we decided to make a full afternoon of our trip to the Boboli Gardens. It’s an expansive area, and the grounds have twisty paths. We wandered up and down the lanes, each of us delighting when we found a new nook or cranny without another soul present.
The best part: The Boboli Gardens showcase a spectacular view the Florence Duomo. The gardens sit higher than the city, so the views include the burnt orange rooftops, with that iconic domed roof sitting tall and proud in the very center. The duomo is the largest and most ornate cathedral in the city, and it’s usually the first place travelers visit. If you want a wider view though, you have to head uphill to the gardens.
And while there are a lot of pretty spots to take a photo, the three of us decided to use the relative quiet of the gardens to take unique shots. These leaping shots in the long canopied aisle of trees was my favorite unconventional spot for a jumping photo. There’s just something more joyous about making a game out of the afternoon too. We all finished our leaping shot series with huge grins on our faces.
The rest of the Boboli Gardens hide a pirate’s treasure trove of beautiful fountains and stunning statues framed by the pristine green gardens. The grounds all date from the 16th-18th centuries, so there’s a lot of old architecture and beautifully worn statues. There is also a museum within the complex; the displays change and when I was there they had a fun history of fashion exhibit on display. It was intriguing to see the gorgeous period dresses some were so elaborate they tended toward gaudy, with sequined bedazzled vests from the 80s. The only thing missing was pink lipstick and teased hair.
What are the Can’t-Miss Spots in the Boboli Gardens?
In addition to just wandering the gardens and popping into the museum, there are a few gardens and spots that are just too pretty to miss.
- Though the amphitheatre area is the most popular, use the map to navigate to a small, ivy covered cottage hidden on the garden grounds.
- The Grotta dei Buontalenti is one of the most famous caves on the grounds and it’s worth navigating the other tourists to take a look.
- Find the lookout points for the Duomo. If you have the time, I recommend timing your visit to after lunch, that way you can wander for a few hours and then grab some shots of the sunset sky surrounding the Duomo domes. The building itself has beautiful pastel green and pinks laid into the marble. It looks gorgeous against a pink-streaked sky. The rocco-style 18th century coffeehouse has the best city views and you can use the terrance even if the coffeehouse is closed.
- Visit the Bardini gardens and head to the Forte Belvedere. These gardens are included in your ticket price and it’s all very close together. The fortress has arguably the best views of the cityscape.
- Pack a book and relax under under the pergola of Holm oaks located on a side avenues off the Viottolone.
- If you like the jumping shots, head to Ragnaie (spiders lane) for the long arched pathway.
- Isolotto’s Basin is gorgeous and there are unique statues around it. It’s also a good spot for reflection photos at certain times of day.
- The Tindaro Screpolato is my favorite statue. I love it so much I’m going to share a bit more about it below!
The Giant Cracked Face Statue
There is a stunning anonymity to the giant, cracked bronze statue. This is my favorite piece in all of the Boboli Gardens, and it strikes me as remarkable even years after seeing it. I am inexplicably drawn to it. I am not an art buff, but I turned a corner of the garden and stopped in my tracks. After an hour of wandering the massive hedged gardens, the Tindaro Screpolato by sculptor Igor Mitoraj stood in a large gravel area.
Bizarre. Huge. Beautiful.
It’s a tale of strength and fragility told in one image. The face is huge, the features dwarf those standing near it. The face is pearled with green streaks running through the cracks. By the time I came upon the statue, I had lost my friends further back on the path. Instead of continuing on, I simply moved to the edge, sat in the gravel and stared at the facets of the face. It’s striking from every side. From the front, you see the features and a streak of tears from one eye, From the side, the face is hollow. From every angle, the face has a stoic expression.
If I could have a mascot photo for A Little Adrift, it would be this one. This face knows what it’s like to be A Little Adrift. The entire representation resonates with me in a way that I know is unique from some others. Though my friend Jenn was intrigued, the face did not hold the same fascination. I highly recommend you stop by this spot and view it for yourself.
Quick Tips & Resources for Florence
Price & Location: The Boboli Gardens are a part of the Pitti Palace complex. This website has the garden’s hours, latest prices, and directions. The price is about €13.
Where to Stay: On the uber-budget end, I recommend DanyHouse Hostel — it’s fantastic. If you have a moderate budget, however, you can upgrade to some basic, conveniently located spots like Hotel Nuova Italia (which has single rooms too, which is ideal for solo travelers). Hotel Andrea is a bit nicer and has an affordable boutique feel. If you want a gorgeous spot in Tuscany, Bassetto Guesthouse is stunning and surprisingly affordable. And if you’re traveling as a family or even a group, there are gorgeous Airbnbs on offer in the city.
Guides & Books:
- There are two great guidebooks for Florence, the Rick Steves Florence & Tuscany has a good deal of history and walking tours, whereas the DK Eyewitness book is good for pre-trip research and ideas of the top spots you will really want to see. I find value in both, but the internet hotly debates which is better.
- From Marble to Flesh: The Biography of Michelangelo’s David: The Kindle edition of this makes for good plane reading if you are heading to Florence for the first time. It’s a very well-written account and it’s a lot more interesting than a bland history book-style recounting.
- Easy Italian Phrase Book: 770 Everyday Phrases: I learned Italian in college, but for others, this is handy and it’s insanely cheap. I recommend throwing it on your Kindle (or Kindle App) so that you have it handy when you’re over there.